Alchemy symbols were initially formulated as part of alchemy (a proto-scientific and philosophical tradition which aims to perfect and purify certain objects).
These alchemical symbols were used until the 18th century to represent individual components and compounds. Symbols and signs varied between chemists even though the system of symbols was uniform.
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Origin of Alchemy
The art of alchemy started centuries ago in Egypt and Arabia. Then later to Rome and Greece. It was finally handed down to the Central and Western Europe.
The word “Alchemy” has its origin from the Arabian phrase “al-Kimia”. The Egyptian tradition of preparing stone or elixir). “Kimia” itself is an Arabic root from the Coptic “Khem,” which fertile black soil of the Nile Delta. Hieroglyphically and esoterically, the word refers to the profound mystery of the aboriginal or First Matter (the Khem).
(See also alchemy jewelry).
Alchemy Symbols and their Meanings
According to Paracelsus, a physician, astrologer, and alchemist, there are three primes (significant elements) of which material substances are instantly composed:
Mercury (meaning Mind): is one of the three heavenly substances as well as the seven metals of alchemy. To alchemists, the mercury rises above both the liquid and solid states, both heaven and earth, and even death and life. Mercury is used to symbolize the planet “Mercury” in astrology. A serpent or snake usually symbolize the metal.
Salt (meaning body): Alchemists believe salt is a divine substance, with mercury and sulfur. Salt has been regarded as sacred and has been widely used as a religious and social symbol for ages. It represents brotherhood, friendship, purity, and incorruption. It is also a symbol of the good things of life.
Sulfur (meaning Spirit): Alchemists use sulfur widely in their practice. It is one of the three heavenly substances.
Seven Planetary Metals
There are seven metals connected with the seven traditional planets and seven deities. All of which profoundly recognized in alchemical symbolism.
The planet’s symbol is commonly used for these metals even though each occasionally has an elemental symbol that represents it.
Lead: Lead is used to represent the Planet Saturn in astrology. It is the first and oldest of the seven metals of alchemy.
Iron : Iron is one of the seven metals of alchemy. It was used to symbolize the planet Mars in astrology.
Tin : Tin is used to symbolize planet Jupiter in astrology. It is one of the seven metals of alchemy.
Gold : Gold is one of the seven metals of alchemy. The alchemists believe gold is the perfection of all matter at all levels (including the spirit, soul, and mind). In astrology, the symbol for gold was used to represent the sun.
Mercury : Mercury is one of the seven metals of alchemy. It is referred to as quicksilver by the in the primeval days and heat in nitric acid, produces mercuric oxide. Quicksilver reacts with nitric acid as a thick red vapor floats over the surface and dazzling red crystals forms rapidly at the bottom.
Silver: In astrology, the symbol for silver is associated with the moon. It is one of the seven metals of alchemy.
Copper : Copper is used to symbolize the planet, Venus. It is one of the seven metals of alchemy.
Other alchemy symbols elements:
- Antimony : The metal antimony stands for the wild spirit of man and nature or the animal nature. The wolf sign usually represents it.
- Arsenic: Arsenic was sometimes represented by the image of a swan and widely used by early alchemists.
- Bismuth : The role that Bismuth paid in alchemy could not be ascertained even though references were made to him in texts.
- Magnesium : “Magnesia alba” (white magnesia) which was magnesium carbonate was used by alchemists. It is also known as “mild magnesian earth.”
- Phosphorus: Alchemists used light to represent the spirit, and they were mainly fascinated by light which seems to be entrapped in a matter such as phosphorus.
- Platinum : Alchemists refer to platinum as a combination of silver and gold.
- Potash: Alchemists used Potash (potassium carbonate) in alchemical processes.
- Zinc : Zinc oxide (Philosopher’s wool or nix alba) was derived by burning zinc in the air.
- Quintessence : Also known as “hermetic seal of light” the quintessence has its roots in the ancient Pythagorean philosophy. This symbol is regarded as the amalgamation of all the elements needed for alchemical transformation. It includes the triangle, the circle, and the square which represents the spirit, soul, and body.
- Diamond : The alchemists consider diamond powerful and associate it with refracting light. Its sparkle and shine symbolize clarity, vision, understanding, keen perception, and awareness.
Finally, The four primary elements of life are: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air
What Was the Objective of the Alchemists?
Alchemists are usually referred to as the first chemists. They created a unique language instead of the chemical symbols we use in modern times. This language represent all kinds of objects, from philosophical tenet to chemical reactions.
In summary, alchemists have three aims.
- To discover the Philosopher’s Stone (the Stone of Knowledge).
- To find the medium of Eternal Youth and Health.
- To find out the transmutation of metals.
Also, the medieval alchemist believes that the different elements were merely the same original substance in varying levels of innocence. Gold was considered the purest of all the alchemic signs with silver following closely.
The early history of alchemy points to the fact that the planet’s astrological symbols were also used to represent alchemical symbols and signs.
The whole concept took another turn during the centuries of medieval suppression and persecution. Then,different alchemist created their secret codes.
That led to the emergence of counterfeits and impostors which made alchemy associated with hoaxes and swindling, alongside witchcraft and sorcery.
Finally, scientists intervened during the 18th Century and strived to separate the genuine accomplishments of alchemy in pharmacology, medicine, and chemistry from magic.